Tuesday, September 30, 2008

2008 Salinas Airshow

F-15 On Reheat

Not really hard to figure that I was a) somewhere local (sunny) and b) there were aeroplanes involved. Yes, I spent the day at the 2008 Salinas Airshow, roughly 60 miles south of here. It was a sunny but not too hot day, but held in a location with very little shade. Of course, I took every precaution in terms of getting out the sunscreen, but that was somewhat negated by then forgetting the vital step of actually taking it with me in the car. Yes, I got burned, and yes, it hurt.

Salinas is a bigger airport than I ever knew and is ideally located in the Salinas valley. On problem is it has a fairly short runway, at least by commercial standards, so a couple of the aircraft flying-in had to be staged over in Monterey instead. Therefore, the static display was limited. The airborne display also a bit limited - and perhaps this was just peculiar to this year- in the sense that there were several F-15 variants and a lone F-18 but not much else in the way of interesting military jets, the U.S. Thunderbirds and their F-16s aside.

In addition to military jets, the air display featured single engine aerobatics, the Canadian parachute team, some stunt flying (which was the shot posted yesterday of course) and a portable toilet powered by a jet engine.

More yet to come.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Go Around. GO AROUND!!!!

Another clue as to whereabouts on Saturday. And no, this isn't me taking flying lessons. Or "waving my arms frantically in the air" lessons either ...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Glass Highlights

Yup, another smart-arse title. As you can see, taking even half-way acceptable pictures of bits of glass, in the dark and whilst being jostled by several hundred other visitors, has its challenges. Prime amongst those is that when lit by focused spotlights, as the larger exhibits all were, glass exhibits horrible specular highlights that overwhelm the dynamic range of any camera, film or digital. Add to that the fact that I only had my G9 with me and so had very limited opportunities to up the aperture or ISO speed in order to avoid camera shake with the inevitable slow shutter settings then I'm surprised I got anything worth a jot at all.

What we have here is a wooden rowing boat, sitting on a black, polished surface, lit by multiple spotlights. It's one of a pair of boats with different "fillings", spheres in this case (balls if you'd prefer!), that formed this particular installation.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Where's J?

Here's a clue as to how I spent Saturday. More shots over the coming days.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Air Traffic Overload

Think there are a lot of planes whizzing over your house these days? Wondering where they are all going? Fretful that you don't understand how they don't all crash into each other?

This video shows a time-lapse view, superimposed on a map of the globe, of all flights taking place around the world over a 24 hour period. Amazing stuff. (Better quality version here.)

The US is literally blanketed with light during daylight hours, as too is Europe, and the transatlantic corridor is just a solid band of yellow.

The tonnage of CO2 being generated; the number of people aloft at any given moment; the sheer economics involved in this collective industry, all must be staggering.

I caught a few minutes of a BBC America program on the inexorable rise of air travel. A reporter was in line to catch a low-cost flight in Bangalore for a journey of less than an hour. He asked the man in front of him what the base price was of his ticket, excluding any taxes or baggage check costs. "6 rupees" was the answer for a seat on this Indian version of Ryan Air.

Sure, with high load factors then air travel can be a quite fuel efficient way of moving people around, but there's a downside with all this and that's the tendency for new, low cost routes to generate additional travel that would otherwise not have happened.

No answers from me, and no particular axe to grind other than to wonder about the accelerative effect this must have on global warning given that it dumps all that CO2 right into the upper atmosphere where it has the maximum negative effect. Makes you think though. Just as cell phones are fast overtaking land-lines as the principal means of personal communication in the developing world, will air travel render train or cars redundant for non-local personal travel in India, China, Russia, South America and elsewhere?

In India, the demand for easier travel outside of the big cities is far outweighing the ability of government to build the necessary infrastructure to support it. Even in Bangalore they have taken nigh on 20 years to build a new airport. However, it's worth noting that even though this new facility is now open, they have yet to build a road out there to meet it .....

The era of mass aviation or even personal aviation - flying cars and all - may have only just begun.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Didn't Read The Plan But Killed It Anyway?

It seems to be the case that, in the midst of all the frenzy around the financial crisis, one of the presidential candidates couldn't even be bothered to read the three page summary of the plan Poulson was proposing, but that, err, oversight somehow didn't seem to stop him from heading off to Washington to blow out of the water the bipartisan agreement that had been reached. To compound that crime, said candidate will undoubtedly claim credit in the future for engineering whatever final agreement can be reached, and all in the name of a campaign for the presidency he says has been suspended.

Of all the twists and turns of this political campaign, this takes us from the absurd to the absolutely unacceptable.

It's bad enough McCain glides over reading something so critical as this 3 page document; it's jaw dropping he'd then admit to it on camera.

Add to that ticket the vacuous Palin and her "I'm good at foreign policy because I can see foreign from my house" line, and it starts to make GW Bush look like Lincoln.

So now I'm scared.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Glass Encounters

As previewed in the previous post, S and I went to the Dale Chihuly exhibition at the de Young museum, San Francisco. As many of you will already know, glass is definitely her thing - much more so than mine - but I was anyway happy to tag along to see what there was to see.

First things first: this is more a study in modern art expressed through glass than it is a simple collection of art objects that happen to be made out of glass. There is a wealth of form and colour in many of the individual pieces shown, let alone the larger arrangement of multiple separate items featured along the eight or so galleries spanned by the exhibition. For example, one room alone, comprising a collection of long slender glass cylinders fixed into logs, is more reminiscent of an installation work at the Tate Modern than it is a commercial glass exhibit.

In addition to his well know series of chandelier-like forms featured in various public spaces, an example of which is shown above, we find everything from the single item vase or jug right up to a complete tableaux stretching the entire length of one gallery. But it's not all glass. We also find a collection of baskets mixed in along with some woven items, providing a strong contrast to the angular nature of aspects of his glass work whilst also pulling us back towards the more organic forms used, again such as those shown above.

More to come in the next few posts ....

Monday, September 22, 2008

Hitler Teapot

Sunday last, we visited the de Young museum to catch the penultimate weekend of the Dale Chihuly exhibition. I'll come back to that later in the week, but meanwhile on the way from the car park into the exhibition there was a small collection of teapots fashioned by Charles Krafft set up on stands lining the corridor.

Of all the six or so items on show, the one above stood out for me as having real impact. In checking on the web afterwards it's clear that Krafft's fashioned this item in a number of differing ways so this is a theme the artist has come back to more than once.

According to the display tag at the museum, the word "Idaho" refers to the known association in people's minds between that state and neo-Nazi groups such as the Aryan Brotherhood who base themselves there. The description also noted the way the lid of the teapot was fashioned as a yarmulke, and that the handle and spout create a strong impression of devil-like horns.

Poking at his MySpace page reveals that Krafft has also taken the concept of Spode ware - aka bone china - a step further, creating a version that uses the remains from human cremation instead of animal bones. I don't believe this piece was fashioned from Krafft's trademarked "Spone" - at least, I hope it isn't for obvious reasons - but other items can be, perhaps a dish or a vase, if having breakfast off a loved one is how you want to remember them of course.

Back to the teapot. The notion of taking the bloodiest dictator that the world has likely ever known and fashioning his likeness into a common kitchen item such as a teapot is either a stroke of artistic genius or an utterly tasteless piece of sensationalism; personally, I opt for the first. Compared with another version shown on Krafft's MySpace page (second link above) this one conveys an even stronger impression of absolute menace; the blank eyes alone speaking volumes about the bottomless pit of hatred Hitler was able to contain. Krafft here reminds us that Hitler's power came from the mundane, the everyday German who, by sitting round the kitchen table and doing nothing, was complicit in his rise to power and assumption of total power without which the Reich could not have pursued its totalitarian agenda of conquest and extermination.

Given how quickly we seem to be able to forget the lessons of history - even those learned so painfully barely one lifetime ago - there should be one of these in every kitchen across the face of the globe. Surely seeing - using it even - everyday of the week might just be enough to help prevent the human race allowing this kind of madness ever to overtake us again? Alas, history also teaches us that we very quickly distance ourselves; we subsequently forget; and we then feel free to fall into the same abyss time and time again, a human failing not even the greatest of artists has ever been able to prevent.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Teach Yourself Italian

Using the above as a guide, you will soon be able to convincingly plead for mercy, curse your partner with the skill and dexterity of a ticked-off London docker, and you'll also come away knowing some interesting hand signals, useful to help you with Italian traffic. Especially if they are driving like this.

What we have here is Ricardo Patrese, ex-F1 racer from the 1980s, driving his wife round a lap of the track in a Honda Civic Type R, filming with a hidden camera her pleas to him to slow down. Actually, pleas, curses, screams, rude gestures and doubtless other threats that I for one cannot translate.

Ricardo seems somewhat unmoved! (Thanks to Honda F1 for allowing this out.)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

GOP to Carly: Time To Get Off The Bus

Photo from AP Photo, by Charles Dharapak

Not sure if you have all been following the ebb and flow of Carly Fiorina's political ambitions but they seem to have come to a crashing halt over the past few days as the increasingly exasperated Republican party finally lost patience with her inability to say the right things when speaking on the public stage.

Quick recap of the story so far: following her departure from HP, Carly was casting around for a way to stay engaged and, well, famous. In an interview in October 2006, she signalled her interest in a political career as well as leaving open the possibility of taking on another CEO role, though clearly no company chair seems to have been offered that was sufficiently tempting. Plan (a) therefore prevailed when she became, albeit briefly, a political commentator on the Fox Business Network, a channel owned by Rupert Murdoch and running with a political agenda to match. For a while this seemed to scratch the dual itches of both allowing her to do what she likes best - self promotion - whilst also further bringing her to the attention of the Republican party.

Fame - at least, of the political flavour - duly followed, and so Fiorina became an advisor to the McCain campaign on business and economic matters, culminating in a staring role at the Republican Convention held in early September, 2008. However, all was not quite as rosy as it seemed.

From the get-go, Fiorina had an uncomfortable habit of saying what she thought McCain's position was - or perhaps should be - rather than instead following the party line and parroting what the spin-meisters at Republican HQ said it had to be. Increasingly, she began to irritate the party hierarchy, and likely so big time when she kicked the sacred right wing cow of abortion rights in the stomach(s) by claiming that McCain was pro-choice.

The final straw this week was saying that Sarah Palin wasn't qualified to run a company. Maybe she is and maybe she's not, but this came at a time of maximum public scrutiny of Ms. Palin over her lack of political experience and overall naivety. In trying to pull off a save, Carly then went on record as saying that none of the candidates could be a CEO, McCain included. Ooops.

Politics is an odd cove; being right and being honest aren't valued as highly as one might like, whilst consistency and an unwavering belief in the self seem to be mandatory, as does a built-in instinct to avoid saying anything negative about one's party cohorts.

Similarly, being a CEO and being President are also two different animals, each requiring their own particular sets of skills and instincts on the part of those pursuing one path or the other. But here's the rub: politicians and executives frequently share at least one key attribute - absolute self belief. At HP, Fiorina could never accept that the board had a valid view of her performance, just as she could never accept that she was falling short on driving the operational aspects of the job. Argue as you might about whether the wisdom or otherwise of her acquisition strategy - and I happen to think it was right - the difference in company performance at HP after she was replaced by someone who lives and breathes operational effectiveness just shows how much this actually was the problem HP was facing.

In the political arena Fiorina comes across as polished, poised and passionate. Unfortunately - for her, at least - she just cannot accept a back-seat role on this particular campaign bus. Her ego simply won't allow it. Consequently, and in an echo of how HP's board ultimately settled the matter, McCain's campaign managers now seem to be kicking her off the coach entirely, stranding her in Silicon Valley. If the unstated goal was to achieve some sort of prime and highly-visible public office after a glitteringly successful campaign role then you'd also have to conclude that will miss her Washington connection onwards to real political power too.

Still, being left behind in a multi-million dollar mansion in the Los Altos Hills isn't all bad, especially with a $20+ million severance package to keep you warm.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

111 - The New Mark Of Damien

And that's as in "111" million pounds and "Damien" as in Hirst.

When his direct-to-customer, two day sale at Sotheby's ended yesterday, Hirst's works had sold for a a staggering total of 111 million pounds. That's not just a record for any single artist sale, it's ten-times the previous record set 15 years ago by a sale of Picasso's finest, who of course by this yardstick was merely 1/10th the artist ...

Iconic though Hirst's work may be, given how prolific he is and how susceptible to degradation works like The Dream (a pickled foal made to look like a unicorn, 2.3 m GBP) and The Kingdom (pickled tiger shark, a staggering 9.6 m GBP) are known to be then you have to wonder if this less an art investment and more like buying rare wines, commodities that can age badly or suffer bottle loss thereby rendering your investment both worthless and tasteless; thinking about it, history may yet judge these massive purchases as exhibiting both of those characteristics.

Oh, and spare a thought for the poor dealers. They just got cut out of the biggest pay-day the art market has ever known. Really, my heart bleeds for them, an image Hirst would most likely want to capture by ripping it from my chest and preserving it, aterial foam and all.

Financial crisis? What crisis? Not round the London art market, matey.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Garden Fish

Despite temperatures rising again out here, autumn is just round the corner. Nights are getting chilly, the fog is rolling back and making it in a long way inland from the coast, and stuff in the garden (as little as their is) is showing signs of a long, hot summer.

The above shot is of a couple of bits of garden art. Two roughly identical metal fish that swim along in our front yard, swinging with changes in the wind direction. They are made by a local artist and range in size from smaller than these to the very large indeed. He does a great shark that we'll have to get one day, although given the price that may have to wait until IPO ...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Still Life vs. Real Life?

Over the past week we have already seen Nikon release a pro-am DSLR with both still and video capability, and here you find RED's CEO apparently letting slip that Canon's going down the same road but with higher quality HD (perhaps in the upcoming 5D evolution?) of 1020P vs 780P. And this, mind, was in the context of RED laying out their intent to get into the photographic business by the end of 2009 with a converged device they've tagged as DSMC - digital still and motion capture - a move that you would think would have alarm bells ringing all over Japan.

If you haven't before then it's worth now taking a look at RED's site. From a standing start they have come into the movie camera world and changed the game, for the first time bringing to the high-end an affordable digital video set-up that drags Hollywood kicking-and-screaming into the 21st century. Take a glance at the "Shot On Red" tab to see how far this upstart start-up has already come, and then question whether or not they can reshape the world of DSLRs.

It's impossible to overestimate how challenging it is to displace incumbents like Canon and Nikon on their chosen turf. Others have tried and died (Minolta ended up as Sony, others just faded quietly or even disappeared altogether) and even new entrants like Sigma haven't been able to make any headway against the giants, not the least cause of which being because they underestimated just how hard it is to produce the most important piece, the sensor, reliably and with low noise characteristics.

Have RED already cracked that nut and hence go into battle better prepared and better armed? I guess we'll see, though not alas for another 12 months at least. Meanwhile, things don't stand still and the deadly rivalry between Nikon and Canon means that there's already a high sense of urgency in each camp to keep innovating. Product cycles are shrinking, and with Sony back in the game so are price-tags (the new Sony Alpha 900 offers 24+ Mpixel performance for $3k vs. Canon's equivalent costing 2.5x that.)

Are the Japanese twins quaking in their boots over RED entering their market? Probably not, but I wonder if RED is as prepared for an assault on theirs? After all, either company has the money to go after high-end professional video, and Sony is, of course, already there.

In a couple of weeks Photokina will deliver the next shoe-drop in Canon's march forwards, so it will be interesting to see what they debut as a movie-mode and how much fanfare is sounded around it. By way of comparison, Nikon seem to have slip-streamed their initial foray into this space rather quietly behind the usual drum-beat banging around mega-pixels, frame-rates and features of interest to the still shooter, which makes you wonder if this was more a test to see if convergence was a space that would draw serious interest from serious DSLR users.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Cell Phone Blues

A Video Camera You Can Call?

Last Friday, Nokia warned that they anticipated a bleak quarter, raising the spectre that, for the first time in years, they will lose market share. Today, Nokia holds roughly 40% market share, itself a feat in an industry that has literally had an impact around the world and changed how people communicate. However, with commoditization comes competition, and it's a battle now being fought as much on price as it is features, especially as much of whatever growth is left in this space is in the emerging markets where consumers are still very cost-conscious (but still expect high quality design, mind you.)

Into all of this, our friends in Mountain View will launch the first Android-based phone in the coming weeks. And we are not impressed, it seems, at least in some quarters. (That link is likely behind the FT registration page and so here's a summary: people want vertical integration, a consistent hardware/software stack, and not a lowest common denominator platform with a bunch of random apps sitting on top. See also here for a more acerbic but no less accurate take.)

As pointed out in the second of those links, this effort seems to solve a problem Google has but not one that plagues the general user population. Google wants to get into the mobile search and advertising space but has struggled to wrest control away from any of the existing players. Therefore, their - now predictable - response is to go it alone and to produce their own platform in the belief that technical advantages alone will ultimately win out.

Sound familiar? "Yes" if you only think Google but "no" if you think Apple where what they have done with the iPhone is to create a much more managed ecosystem built around a vertically integrated platform that they tightly control.

Be very interesting to see Apple's response once Android goes live, and subsequently to see if there's any real take up beyond the early-adopter few who just want to be first.

Me? Don't care. I want a phone to be no more nor less than a calling device with an address book, and packaged in the smallest form factor that's conceivably usable. Beyond that I want a PDA for e-mail, browsing etc. with a real keyboard so even I can type on it, clumsy and old as I am. But then I'm only one voice among billions, so the ultimate answer to this one will be up to the market to decide.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Vampire Dog

No particular reason for this one other than it's the weekend and I don't have anything else much to blog about. Work is a complete zoo as we approach Q-end, what with fund-raising, customers, VC and all the usual palaver. As a consequence, I've not had a chance to put very much up here in the past few days but have been trying out a new (second-hand lens), a 50 mm F 1.2L. So far, the conclusion it's a bit soft wide open but less so than the Sigma 35 mm F 1.4, and beats the Sigma in contrast and colour by a significant margin across the board. Oh, and watch out for the razor thin depth-of-field!! Sorry, Cara, but those fangs aren't sharp (well, except in the real-world of course.)

Looking forward though to the Spa F1 GP tomorrow. Lewis Hamilton has pole and rain threatens. We're having a few people over for beer and snacks so hopefully everyone will put on a good show.

More stuff next week.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

What's Wrong With Paper?

If one swallow doth not a summer make, how about two? (There's a Madonna joke in there somewhere, but I digress.)

Hot on the heels of the machine that prints designs of your choice onto the top of a nice foamy latte, we now have another one: yes, it's time to say "hi" to the toaster-printer combo appliance.

While 12x12 isn't exactly going to allow you to read and eat your morning newspaper at the same time, it's enough to produce a smiley face (albeit a rather blocky one, as shown above) and likely they will find a way to have it advertise McDonalds very, very soon.

Feeling toasty yet?

Monday, September 1, 2008

Browser Wars - Does Anyone Still Care?

It looks like tomorrow Google will release its own browser, code named, Chrome, to take on the likes of Explorer, Safari and FireFox to name but three.

I have no doubt it will bring some interesting features to the marketplace but surely this is too little, too late? In usual Google fashion, this will be a beta release intended to follow the maxim of "release early and iterate" so expect to find something that's far from baked.

Here's their challenge: it appears that this is intended to be more of a platform play in the longer run, but in order to win mind share now and build sufficient market share, Google somehow has to rise above the crowd and take over a large chunk of the existing market that's dominated by Explorer. And a great many of those users are often not especially tech-literate so ultimately what would draw them into taking the leap of faith necessary to download and use Chrome? Beats me, but we'll see tomorrow I suppose where this is all heading and what in the way of eye-candy Google is offering.

For my part I'm happy to sit on the sidelines and wait to see what others make of it. As Google themselves say, "To most people, it isn't the browser that matters. It's only a tool to run the important stuff -- the pages, sites and applications that make up the web." Indeed, which begs the question of why anyone should use Chrome rather than any of the other offerings today if all it does is fade into the background?? IE 7 fixed a lot of stability issues and Safari and FireFox have led the way with new innovations like tab browsing and private use.

Yeah, I'm being negative and probably shouldn't be. Driving innovation is what the Valley is all about and you have to give Google credit for not being afraid to push the envelope. It's also possible that there is some grand unification play here where Chrome is ideally suited to Android-based platforms and hence the real power is in the combination of more than one of their developments. Indeed, as pointed out elsewhere then perhaps there is more to this than meets the eye, and what with threading and its own Java engine then this is the first sight of what ultimately might become a a new operating system ultimately?

We'll see how this all plays out, I guess, but meanwhile at least the price is right ....